The Other Side of Gary Card

Published August 8, 2013

Since 2006, set designer Gary Card’s comic-book world of vivid colors, cuddly sculptures, and large, whimsical installations have been increasingly in-demand. Not only has he created sets for Comme Des Garçons, Uniqlo, Topshop, House of Holland, Dover Street Market, Nike, Adidas, and Stella McCartney; he has also been published in the largest and most recognized arts and fashion magazines worldwide.

Despite international acclaim, the 32-year-old Central Saint Martins graduate has never had a show of his own, until now. This week, Card premieres his first solo exhibition “Abandoned Amusement Park Attraction,” at a small East London gallery called Eternal Youth—which fits the spirit of Card’s work perfectly. We caught Card on Skype for a quick chat about his new work right before the curtain dropped.  

LARS BYRRESEN PETERSEN: Tell me about your exhibition; how did it come about?

GARY CARD: Yeah, it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for ages—for years, actually. I was waiting for the right time to do it. It’s been a good period recently, because work’s calmed down, and I thought this would the right time. I guess my job now is so commercial—a lot of the commissions I get are [British supermarket] Marks and Spencer and stuff like that. It was important for me to remind myself why I do this and why I love making stuff. It was exciting for me to re-explore the kinds of things I started to make when I was starting out. The idea was, “How do I do this now that I’m older, and what does it look like now that I’ve grown up a bit?” And imagining what the old stuff would look like now that I’ve gotten more of a commercial head. The gallery owners are friends of mine.

PETERSEN: Is it just new pieces, or will you mix in a bit of archive?

CARD: Everything is brand-new. There’s a little bit of recycling from the studio. I’ve been going through the old archive and seeing what I can use and stuff. But 95% of it is all brand new. My hands are fucked.

PETERSEN: Why?

CARD: I’ve been using so much wire, and it rips my hands to ribbons. My boyfriend hates me at the moment, because they are kind of like feet. It feels like the bottom of your feet, it’s disgusting. And now it’s all peeling away and gross and they are kind of spiky.

PETERSEN: Tell me a little about the pieces?

CARD: It took me a very long time to figure out and to actually decide. But I settled on “Abandoned Amusement Park Attraction.” It’s a bit of a metaphor. When I’m doing some of the editorial stuff that I do, it’s a shorthand way of talking to my set-building team about the kind of look that I’ll be going for. So it gave them the idea of thinking about an amusement park that had just been left alone, left to rot. I’m really excited about cartoon forms: big, cuddly, round kind of shapes. But the idea is the juxtaposition—I hate that word—between something very friendly and then trying to realize that in a raw and almost aggressive way. You’ve all these kind of smiling faces, but they’re all fucked. They are all melting, and I’m smashing them with hammers. You can see work inside where bits have been torn away. That’s what I’m excited about. We all remember it from our childhood: something sweet and nice, and then pairing that with something really perverse and sinister to see where it meets in the middle.

PETERSEN: That feels like an aggressive turn for you. When I think of your work, it’s always cute and colorful.

CARD: I think a lot of people associate me with just the big, bright and colorful stuff that I do, because that’s what people commission. But when I can, I also like to explore the other side. I like doing things in black and white and doing sinister things, but also things that have got a different mood. This is kind of a dream project for me, because I get to exercise both sides of my personality.  

PETERSEN: I know you’re obsessed with Prince, as well the color purple. As a fellow Prince fan, I have to ask: do the two go hand in hand?

CARD: [laughs] You know that I’m a fanatic, right?

PETERSEN: About Prince or about purple?

CARD: Both. I went to seven of the 21 concerts he did in London in 2007. It was around my birthday, so whenever people asked me what I wanted, I asked for Prince tickets. One time, I swear he looked directly at me. I was on the front row and knew the lyrics to all his songs. He must have noticed, so he looked at me—he looked directly into my soul.

PETERSEN: Then what about purple?

CARD: It’s not because of Prince. My grandparents had this beautiful royal purple carpet and I was obsessed with it. My parents saw how much I loved it, so they got me the same. I have loved it ever since. It’s happy, mysterious, and dark at the same time. 

“ABANDONED AMUSEMENT PARK ATTRACTION” IS ON VIEW THROUGH AUGUST 21 AT ETERNAL YOUTH GALLERY, LONDON.